JEFFERSON CITY - Missourians for Equality, a recently formed political action committee, is looking to end discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in Missouri.
It recently filed an application with the Secretary of State to petition for a measure that would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Missouri's nondiscrimination policy. The policy already includes protection against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and age.
This isn't the first time a group has pursued an addition to the policy. For the past 12 years, groups throughout Missouri have tried to persuade legislators to end LGBT discrimination in the state. But none of the legislation has passed through the Missouri House of Representatives.
Missourians for Equality has decided to go a different route with an initiative petition, bypassing the politicians altogether and looking to citizens instead to approve the proposal.
If the Secretary of State and Attorney General approve the petition form, Missourians for Equality will be able to gather signatures from registered Missouri voters. If they get enough signatures, the measure will be added to the 2014 ballot. In order to do this, Missourians for Equality will need to gather about 130,000 signatures.
"In the state of Missouri, nondiscrimination protects African Americans, for example, or people who have a religious preference. And they can't be discriminated against in housing accommodations, in health care, in employment, etc. And this would simply expand that list to include sexual orientation and gender identity," said Aaron Malin, a spokesperson for Missourians for Equality.
Malin said he feels the legislature wasn't ready for this, and he hopes the initiative petition might make a bigger difference in the fight for equality.
"I think the populace of Missouri is more progressive, far more progressive on LGBT issues than our representatives in this case," Malin said.
Another group, called Promo, is based in St. Louis, and has been fighting for the same cause for much longer - over a decade.
"I certainly think there's great value to the public awareness that Missourians for Equality is bringing to the table. They've certainly got a center of conversation in different circles right now," said A.J. Bockelman, Promo's Executive Director.
But Bockelman added that, while Promo will continue to fight for the rights of the LGBT community, they will continue to work with legislators to accomplish their goal.
"We are committed to seeing this pass. Unfortunately, oftentimes when you look at a state like Missouri or even a state like Illinois, it's a long, treacherous process. It's fought with much frustration throughout the entire time. And I share that frustration with groups like Missourians for Equality, but we are committed to working within the system to change things and make it better for the LGBT community," said Bockelman.
But both groups said they are in agreement that when it comes down to it, it's about equality.
"We have no rights ourselves if everyone's rights aren't protected," said Malin.
And Malin and Bockelman said that they will keep pushing - both the people and the legislators, respectively - to end discrimination against LGBT citizens in Missouri.